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Cure For the Itch

Posted on Sun Sep 24th, 2017 @ 6:22pm by Commander Akiva ben-Avram & Biynah & Lieutenant JG Xiulan Song

Mission: S2E1 - Secrets
Location: Linguistics Lab
Timeline: Mission Day 101; 12:00-ish

"So, you're an android?"

The question was a bit out of nowhere, but it wasn't like Xiulan had anything else to talk about as they made her way back from the main Science Lab and to her own specialized lab. And she asked without reproach or judgment; she knew that some people often looked down on artificial life forms, but Xiulan didn't.

"No," Biynah said. "An android is man-like, and I am not at all human. I am a bio-neural synthetic lifeform, originating first as a self-designing virtual interface until my father created my physical frame complete with gelpack circuits for sense data, molecular motors to generate silicate flesh, and a quantum subprocessor to regulate my physical systems with my neural network. I am told I do not have a 'soul', but I have come to learn pain."

Her tone did not modulate or shift in the slightest.

"Huh... Explains some of the readings I'm getting off of you," Xiulan replied casually. Her ocular implants took in a multitude of data and Xiulan didn't know what to make of what she was 'seeing'; while Biynah wasn't registering as a biological lifeform, neither was she pinging as a machine either. "How old are you?" she asked. "That is, if you don't mind me asking questions," she quickly added, mindful that some people didn't like a multitude of questions. Xiulan herself didn't mind questions so long as they weren't too personal.

"My base code was compiled several years ago," Biynah replied. "I've self-designed several iterations and upgrades under my father's programming. It has been less than a year, though, since my incarnation with physical perception."

"Oh yeah? How you liking it so far?" Xiulan asked. They arrived at her lab and a sound pinged from the door to remind her of where she was, just until she learned her way around a little better. The lab was dark when they entered, but it wasn't all that unusual for her to work in the dark seeing as she didn't need light to function. Most of the consoles were shut off, and the one that was active had a tactile interface. "Oh, pull up a chair and I'll show you how I do this," she offered as she made her way to her chair.

"That is unnecessary," Biynah said. "Sensory perception is perhaps akin to experiencing the material structure of an object which before only existed as abstract values--atomic weights, designated purpose, and so on. Imagine, for a moment, if your languages came to life into a plane of existence filled with other intelligences." She paused for a moment to positively reflect on her analogy. "It is like that."

Biynah then took a position adjacent to the console. "Since my systems are self-building, my perceptions are not strictly human in scope. As a result, my communication with the Vindex's computer, Yael, does not require speech." She brushed her hand across the console, then hovered her palm a few inches over it. "Work as you typically do, and I will observe."

"Sit, stand, I don't care," Xiulan said with a shrug as she folded up her cane and tucked it away, then took a seat in her chair. "And sentient language... seems a bit silly if you ask me, but okay," she remarked as she adjusted her earpiece; she normally wore a headset to block out outside stimuli so she could focus on the her linguisitc audio files searching for similarities in language structures, but since she had a guest she opted to just use the small earbud so they could continue to communicate.

"Well, your communication with the Vindex doesn't require 'verbal speech', but communication is still communication, and computer code is as much a language as anything we're using now. It's part of the reason I'm having such a hard time figuring out this shuttle, because we can't figure out the shuttle's computer code until we can figure out what their written language means. At its most basic form of communication, binary, computers are quite simple, open or closed, but then we assign values to combinations of open and closed, by which you and I both know that the bit string for the letter 'a' is 01100001, but this is not consistent with every culture or language we come across, we have to learn their language, then how they assign values in their computer so that our computers can interface. Most of the time our Universal Translator is advanced enough that it can make these translations without any problems, but this shuttle has a very complex glyph system, like Earth hieroglyphs from Egypt or kanji from China and Japan, meaning that each symbol means one word or even a concept that we're just guess at the meaning, rather than a phonetic alphabet to spell out words. But somehow, you were able transcend this and retrieve information that will serve as a sort of 'Rosetta Stone' to bridge the gaps, and that is fantastic!"

Xiulan had started off her explanation calm, but as she continued she grew more excited; she had a real love for linguistics, and it was hard to contain her enthusiasm with someone who could actually understand what she was explaining. All the while, her fingers were moving over the tactile interface to load the new data from the shuttle.
"Now see, this script is different than the glyphs on the shuttle's displays; this is a proper phonetic alphabet, and I can try to start matching some of this up to the audio clip I got from you, and we'll be in business!"

"To follow your analogy, my quantum subprocessor does not process 1's or 0's, but 1's and 0's," Biynah explained. "My runtimes are not limited to traditional logic as a result, which means that I do not follow a sequential process of elimination, but a simultaneous elimination of all impossibilities through the unlimited potential of non-sequential processing." Biynah squinted a moment as she recalled an another adequate analogy. "Schroedinger's Cat is both dead and alive until he opens the box. That superposition allows for more processes than when limited to one condition or the other. In short, there may not be one single correct solution to the answer of the alien language. Infinite diversity in infinite forms cannot be fully predicted. My processes simply determined the most likely form given the observed finite possibilities."

"Incredible," Xiulan replied with a grin, "and that in turn allowed rudimentary communication with the shuttle even without an understanding of the base code language, amazing! I would love to get a look at your coding sometime, I bet it's orgasmic," she said with her usual lack of tact.

Biynah dropped her hand from the console. A new puzzle had presented itself to her in the form of Xiulan.

"How do you mean?" Biynah said. "As an asexual synthetic lifeform, I do not believe orgasmic is an applicable descriptor for my base code."

"Are you kidding?! Anything with level of elegance and complexity you're talking about must be... something incredible..." Xiulan said with a dreamy gaze, but it didn't hinder the movement of her fingers as she continued to work through linguistic files looking for references to help her decode the new text from the shuttle. "And who says you have to be Asexual? I mean, if you don't wanna get jiggy with anyone, that's your business, but have you ever tried?"

"I presumed you were employing a metaphor, but you have turned literal." Biynah pondered in thought. "There is no way for me to reproduce after my own kind, save for constructing another physical frame for an intelligence to inhabit. Perhaps I could even multiply and divide my artificial intelligence into a separate base code that could self-design as I have within that frame, but I would hardly require a partner to do so. Asexual seems the most accurate designation."

"Well, there's Asexual, and then there's Asexual," Xiulan said, as if that cleared things up. "Wasn't talking about procreation, you probably ain't ready for that anyway, but in terms of human interaction, Asexual also reference a lack of desire for sexual contact," she said to clarify further. "And I wasn't talking about a metaphor... I've got off to some pretty kinky things, coding wouldn't be the first weird thing I've ever, ya know..."

Biynah shook her head and frowned. "No, I do not know. I do not possess sex organs, since all procreation on my part would be digital, along with whatever mechanical frame I manually construct. If there is a context to your words as applies to me, it... does not compute." She paused for a moment while Xiulan continued running her program. "Can you elaborate?"

"Wow, seriously?" Xiulan replied, then snickered with a shake of her head. "The context was you couldn't understand how your code could be orgasmic, but I go for that kind of thing, so maybe it's not orgasmic to everyone, but you can't account for personal taste. Anyway, people don't have sex purely for procreation. Some people have sex for the fun of it 'cause it feels good, but for some it's 'romantic' and they wanna get closer to the person the like. That's why the men in Starfleet get monthly injections, so they ain't knocking up all the ladies in the fleet. So maybe you can't partake in this pastime yet, but one day maybe you will and then you'll understand," she explained with all the bluntness of an orbital strike.

Biynah mulled that over. "My father once said that the best way to show affection to someone is to bake them a cake, or if you really love them, leave them alone for awhile. That seems counter-intuitive. I think I agree with your perspective, even if I am an exception to it."

"Meh, depends on what kind of cake it is," Xiulan replied with a shrug. "Normally I'm all for free food, but I don't like anything too sweet, and I am rather partial to alone time... Your dad's advice ain't too bad, but it really depends on the person and what they're doing. But if you really wanna show someone you care, get to know what they like and show interest in the things they're passionate about. Like my boyfriend, he loves to go fight bandits with a sword in the holodeck, so we go do holo-novels together when we can find the time for it, and then he shows me he cares by making me coffee, and none of that crappy replicated stuff either, the real deal, freshly brewed from real roasted beans."

"Your boyfriend sounds peculiar," Biynah said. "But I suppose it is clever of him to think of giving you authentic coffee. I learned that many blind people develop acute senses of smell, which could explain your strong preference for coffee which would otherwise have no molecular difference."

She put her hand near the console again and twitched with excitement. "Oh! I think your search query found something."

Without warning, Biynah's eyes rolled back into her head. In a guttural tone, she said, "เขาทั้งหลายพูดว่า "มาเถิด ให้พวกเรา."

The transition back to her normal self was much quicker than before on the shuttle with her parents. She beamed with pride at Xiulan. "Could you interpret that?"

"From a 'molecular' standpoint, maybe they are the same, but really they're not," Xiulan replied. "And not just blind people can- oh, hello..." she said, cutting herself off when Biynah issued another snippet of audio which Xiulan barely had time to start recording, but she got it! "Yeah yeah, let's see what we can make of this..." Xiulan mused as she once again started replaying the audio on repeat through her earpiece. "You did good, kiddo, got a lot more variation in phonetics, this should help a lot," she said as she listened.

"Pity we do not know what it means yet," Biynah frowned.

"Well gimme a minute, kiddo," Xiulan said with a chuckle. "Are you following what I'm doing so far?" she asked. And so far, Xiulan had been dissecting the audio, looking for key components in other languages trying to find any similarities in syntax from which she could extrapolate translation keys for the universal translator, which had worked well for the first bit of audio they had recovered, but this one was proving a bit trickier.

"It seems you are comparing my audio approximations to other similar phonetic samples," Biynah said. She put her hand down to set her attention on Xiulan. "Does that really work? It would seem the innumerable variables would allow for multiple false cognates."

"Well, it's not so much the phonetics I'm paying attention to, though that is an important part," Xiulan replied with a grin; this kid was sharp, she didn't miss a thing! "What I'm really looking for is how the words are being used, inflection and intonation. For all the differences in languages across the galaxy, there are certain things that end up very similar, and by finding those similarities, we can analyze sentence structure and start to work backwards to figure out what the words mean. It can include a lot of guess work, but with a solid understanding of communication structures, it reduces the margins of how wide those guesses will go." But then Xiulan frowned. "But I don't think this phrase is a full sentence, it's making it harder to find a way in. I think it may be another system message, which-"

Xiulan was abruptly cut off when the klaxxon of the Red Alert began to sound off.

"Holy hell, what's going on!" Xiulan exclaimed as she checked the computer logs to find out what happened.

Biynah shot her hand back to the console and closed her eyes. "There's an Intruder Alert," she said at length. "Shuttlebay... Engineering..."

She opened her eyes and stared at Xiulan. "What should we do?"

"First off, we stay calm," Xiulan said as she rose from her chair. She made her way over to the door and felt around for the door panel and began keying in the commands to lock the door. "We're going to stay put until Security calls the all clear or we get the order to evacuate. Unless these intruders want something specific, then the Science labs would be deemed non-vital, they should should be more interested in locations that would give them control of the ship, like Engineering."

Biynah sighed. "So we wait..." She crossed her arms petulantly. "During the mutiny, my sister and I helped capture a prisoner. Chef Foster even let me interrogate him." With an angry pout, she looked up to Xiulan. "Everybody thinks I'm a child, but I'm not. Why won't they let me do anything important?"

"I may call you 'kiddo', but this has nothing to do with your age or maturity," Xiulan said with a scowl. She may not have been able to see Biynah's pout, but she could hear it in her voice and her choice of words. "I'm an Officer, I signed up for this, went through the Academy and all to learn what to do in these situations, but you're a civilian, and while civilians often do help when they are able, it would be reckless to simply go running after danger. If and when you ever become a Starfleet Officer, then you'll know it's your duty and responsibility to protect the civilians you serve with, child or not."

"Starfleet Officer," Biynah said thoughtfully. "That would potentially fulfill both of my directives... learning all that I can and loving my father by following in his steps. It would not be unprecedented for someone like me either." She looked back to Xiulan. "Do you think it's worth it?"

"Yeah.... Yeah, I suppose that's something..." Xiulan said with a shrug as she sat back down, somewhat tense and ready to fight should something find its way through that door despite the lock. "I joined Starfleet to get away from my father, but if joining makes you happy, then that's what's important, I guess."

Biynah gave pause. "Away from father..." Conflict was rife in her face. "Is it possible to love someone when apart from them?"

Xiulan couldn't see the conflict on Biynah's face, but there was no chance of missing it in her voice.
"Of course," Xiulan said, conflict making its way into her own facial features. "When you join Starfleet, there's no guarantee that you'll be stationed with a person you care about. Sometimes, if you're lucky or just well connected, you can pull some strings so that you can serve on the same ship," she explained, thinking back to how Arturo managed to get reassigned to the Vindex so they could stay together.
"But sometimes you just have to be apart, but that doesn't mean you don't still care. So you make time to contact them and talk over subspace, maybe take leave together so you can meet up somewhere, but just because you don't see someone everyday doesn't make those feelings go away."
This was definitely reminding her of her own father, and Arturo had wanted to meet him, but she wasn't on the best of terms with her father, but that didn't stop them from loving each other either.

Everything Xiulan made perfect sense. Biynah considered Amber's condition, the confusing relationship between her father and Laena, and her own place on board a ship that felt more confining by the day.

"I think I should join Starfleet," Biynah declared. "But I worry my father will not approve."

"My father didn't, but then again sometimes you have to do what makes you happy," Xiulan replied. "But you should probably finish whatever development you're going through before joining; the Academy wasn't easy, and it's not just the academics, it's a competitive environment, and I've seen it do a real number on cadets who simply weren't ready for it," she cautioned.

"I wouldn't be like most cadets," Biynah replied in protest. "Suppose I even graduated early. My analogue to sleep is only every 7 days."

"There's a reason the Academy takes as long as it does," Xiulan offered in return, an expression of frustration growing on her features; clearly Biynah just wasn't getting it... "Being an Officer isn't just about knowledge or procedure, it's about learning how to interact with your peers, superiors, and subordinates. It's very social, you have to learn how to make connections; take it from me, I burned a lot of bridges and that set me on the fast track to being a career Ensign, not that I minded at the time, and if it hadn't been for the incidents on the Beifong, I'd probably still be an Ensign now, but considering that I'm damned good at what I do, those skills didn't take me very far because I wasn't a very cooperative Officer."

Biynah smirked. "I seem to get a long well enough with you."

"That's 'cause you're fascinating and I wanna figure out how you work," Xiulan said rather bluntly. "Also, now that I understand the weight of responsibility after my brief stint of command of the Beifong, I've decided to make an earnest effort to not be a pain in the ass all the time. So you've caught me on a good day, the attack on the ship notwithstanding." As if on cue, the Red Alert ceased and Xiulan's hands skimmed over the tactile interface to get a status update.

"You think I'm fascinating?" Biynah smiled meekly. "Most others don't seem to know what to think."

"And lemme guess, they're super nice, but always awkward, never really knowing what to say to you? Or they try to help you do things without ever asking if you even need the help?" Xiulan asked in return. "I know that that's like; if you're just a little bit different, people treat you... different... even if they don't mean to. I don't see much point in doing anything like that with you; yeah, you're different, ain't any point in denying that, but just 'cause you were 'made' instead of 'born' don't make you any less of a person. So sure, you're a little weird, but who ain't from time to time? Differences aside, you're just tryna find your place in life same as any other person in the 'verse, that makes you no different than any of us."

Biynah bristled at first, but by the time Xiulan had finished, she stood a bit straighter. "My father compiled my base code, but I built myself." She looked at her hands and feet. "Well, not my physical frame. Abba employed a number of specialists to devise the molecular motors which create and sustain my silicon flesh. But my firmware which directs my learning and growing is all me. In time, I may be able to even alter the programming for my molecular motors, which would then allow me to alter my appearance... but Abba said that is probably a ways off."

"The point is, you were built, but I see beyond that and I see an inquisitive mind, far more than a set of AI heuristics seeking to expand a database of knowledge; you display genuine intelligence and reactions to your environment, I can hear it in the way you ask your questions, that little smirk I couldn't see but I could hear it in the inflection of your word, or in the way it sounded like your breath caught in your throat just now," Xiulan said with a lopsided grin. "Most people would see a 'machine', even if such an assumption is not at all accurate, but I just see a person who came into this existence a different way than the rest of us. What I hear in your voice is not something that can be mimicked or faked, kiddo; from a categorical standpoint you are an artificial life form, but I don't see anything artificial about who you are as a person."

Biynah clapped her hands with glee. "My father studies my reactions because he programmed me to adopt social cues. He thinks I mimic them, but I failed to understand the difference between mimicry and adoption. Thank you for helping me understand there is no difference over time."

She paused in thought for a moment while observing Xiulan close out her console. "Is Starfleet the best opportunity to learn and grow?"

"Even in human development, especially in our young, it all starts as mimicry that we adopt as our own over time, which you seem to be doing quite well," Xiulan affirmed as she shut everything down so she could take Biynah home. "A programmer might wonder how 'accurate' this process it, a Counselor might ponder existential things about who you are, but I listen for different things, how you communicate, and you sound like you're on the right track. As for the opportunity to learn and grow, Starfleet is definitely good for that, but so is any form of higher education." Xiulan stood and grabbed her cane, striding over to the door to unlock it. "Now c'mon, I'll walk you home, or we could go find your father if you'd like."

At that moment, Akiva popped back through the door. He looked simultaneously surprised and relieved to see them.

"I'm glad you are well," he gasped. "The Intruder Alert is over now." His eyes darted to Xiulan. "Thank you, Lieutenant, for safeguarding her during the... event." He gave his knee a slight bent to look Biynah in the face. "Did you learn anything while you were here?"

Biynah looked at Xiulan who matched her height with a roguish smile. "You could say it was very 'eventful'."

Xiulan grinned; how serendipitous that Akiva was here now! "She's very clever, sir, and she can come hang out with me anytime she wants," she said approvingly.

Akiva nodded, though not without a raised eyebrow. Clearly there was some sort of subtext he was lacking. "Very well. Biynah, you're dismissed. Go have some fun, but stay out of trouble."


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